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It's not really the gooey descriptions like "the verdant expanse" or "emerald jewel," the "lush outfield" or the "symmetry of the diamond."
No, it's more like Williams, Mantle, Berra, Aaron, Feller, Ford, Pierce and Minoso, the men who left indelible impressions on the boy.
It's the mustard smell, the iron pipes with layers of yellow paint surrounding the box seats, the non-descript scoreboards listing the results of the other seven games. It's not rap, but the organ belching "Roll Out the Barrel," and Whitey the Field Announcer telling us to "Get your pencils and scorecards ready."
It's the vendor hawking "Hey, Lemonade," and the men in the left field stands stacking an ever-expanding snake of empty beer cups, a live monument representing their prodigious thirsts when no one focused on their ability to drive home.
What's noteworthy is that the games, moments, personalities and milestones of 50 to 60 years ago provide more clarity to someone my age than those of the '80s and '90s when work, family, health and stability interfered with the attention one could pay to the sport. Even now White Sox pinch hitter deluxe Smoky Burgess (1964-67) occupies a clearer presence in my long-term memory than the team's DH in 2005 - it was Carl Everett - when they somehow won the whole shebang.
In a letter to Charles McGrath, the former fiction editor of the New Yorker, Roger Angell wrote, "I think fans still don't have any notion of how hard big-league baseball really is - how the season gets to you. Other sports beat you up - this one happens every day and it grinds you down. It's by far the hardest sport to play at a high level."
Angell wrote those words not so much as an excuse but as an explanation for the edge - be it greenies, PEDs, coffee or Red Bull - the athletes sought/seek to cope with the marathon that unravels for a half-year.
Those of us observing from the seats behind third base or from our sofas might not need the artificial enhancements that the athletes favor, but we are entitled to a few plaudits for beginning yet another journey following the daily happenings between now and the beginning of October. Past experience dictates that we neither get overly enthusiastic nor too despondent at this early stage. We are careful not to buy into the dictum that everyone starts out even when we know that the folks in Milwaukee, Miami, Cincinnati and Colorado will soon be following losing teams. The same could be the case for Oakland where the White Sox open the season this evening. The hope is that our fellows will be a cut above those ballclubs - a healthy cut above.
Instead of Micah Johnson, Alexei Ramirez and Conor Gillaspie at second, short and third, respectively, on Opening Day a year ago, we're sure that Brett Lawrie, Jimmy Rollins and Todd Frazier represent improvement. The former trio, of whom only Ramirez lasted the entire season, hit .244 with 13 homers and 81 RBI. But the current threesome, all regulars the entire 2015 season, accounted for 64 round-trippers and 190 RBI even though their aggregate batting average was a modest .247. For a ballclub that outscored only two of the other 29 teams in 2015, the new faces should provide noticeably more pop.
Free agent Austin Jackson, the 29-year-old center fielder, has a respectable slash line of .273/.333/.732 over his six seasons. His presence means that Adam Eaton can patrol a side field, giving the Sox two outfield defenders who can go get the ball. Let's hope that Melky Cabrera and Avi Garcia don't mess up too badly when called upon to catch and throw. Knowing that only one of them will be in the outfield on most days is a good thing. Of course, Eaton, Cabrera and Garcia often will handle the DH duties, another step up from the departed former National Leaguer who took his bat and son and went home.
The real sleeper in terms of the new guys very well could turn out to be catcher Dioner Navarro. He was an All-Star in Tampa Bay in 2008, and as recently as 2014 as the regular in Toronto, the 32-year-old Venezuelan hit .274 with a dozen homers and 69 RBI in 139 games.
The unpleasant memory of Navarro smashing three home runs - including two at the expense of John Danks - in Wrigley Field on May 29, 2013 as the Cubs drubbed the Sox 9-3 could be assuaged if the switch hitter gets enough playing time on the South Side. In addition, Navarro makes contact. He has struck out a bit less than 14 percent of his plate appearances over 12 years, welcome relief from Tyler Flowers who fanned a third of the time. Now it's up to manager Robin Ventura to play the guy - he also has newcomer Alex Avila - behind the plate or at DH.
While Cactus League games are admittedly only practice, the 51 home runs the Sox hit in spring led the major leagues. So what if the games don't count. That's impressive.
As far as pitching is concerned, the team has just one new face: the oft-injured Mat Latos, who is trying to rebound at age 28 to the effectiveness he showed as recently as 2013 when he went 14-7 for Cincinnati. Ventura can be confident that Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon will keep his club competitive, but we will excuse him if he's a bit testy on days when Latos and Danks pitch. Both need to assert themselves as legitimate major league starting pitchers.
As the season opened the past three years, the Sox rotation included the likes of Dylan Axelrod, Felipe Paulino and Hector Noesi. So there is nothing new about huge question marks, which turned into gaping holes, for starting pitching in the recent past. However, none of the aforementioned trio ever had the success of Latos on their ledgers.
Here's something to contemplate. In the past two seasons, Danks has an 18-26 record and an ERA of 4.73, while Latos is 9-15 with a 4.16.
Meanwhile, there's an unsigned free agent out there whose combined 2014-15 record is 28-18 with an ERA of 3.59. His name is Mark Buehrle. Just sayin'.
The bullpen remains the same, which is pretty good because of closer David Robertson, a healthy Nate Jones, along with lefties Zach Duke and Dan Jennings, and righties Zach Putnam, Matt Albers, and Jake Petricka.
What the Sox need right now is a good start. Last year the club lost its first four games, and they never really recovered. The new faces - Frazier, Jackson, Lawrie and Rollins - have been on winning teams in the past, and they need to contribute to and lead a positive outlook. A winning April will tend to do that.
By the time all of this comes to a close, faces will come and go, the disabled list will have many visits, help may come from places like Charlotte and Birmingham, and Ventura either will experience job security or find at least one foot out the door. Part of the appeal is how it all unfolds. That is the fodder that keeps us interested. If we wish to escape harsh realities in our lives, the daily drama can serve a useful purpose. If the Sox lose today, maybe they'll win tomorrow. For those of us watching from the sidelines, it's not a bad deal.
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Posted on May 22, 2017